Spain v Italy
Ernst Happel Stadion, Vienna
Quarterfinals, Euro 2008
Sunday 22 June 2008
Kickoff: 20:45 CET, 14:45 EST
Two hours of turgid, negative football resulted in the inevitably dramatic penalty shoot-out that World Cup holders Italy appeared to have set out for from the outset in this damp squib of a quarter-final — but mercifully it was the more adventurous Spaniards that ended the night celebrating. Burying their incredible hoodoo of losing three past major shoot-outs on the date of June 22 (in 1986, 1996 and 2002) Spain held their nerve to triumph 4-2 on penalties – with Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas slotting home the decisive spot kick with aplomb.
This disappointing clash made France v Romania look like a thriller but we’ve still captured the highs and lows in our FULL-TIME FILE……
We never really came close to seeing a goal in open play despite Spain’s persistent attempts to break down a packed Italian defence, so the lottery of the penalty shoot-out decided matters. Goals from Villa, Cazorla and Senna had given Luis Aragones’ side a 3-2 lead, and following a second brilliant save from Iker Casillas, the pivotal spot kick came down to Arsenal talisman Cesc Fabregas. Knowing that a successful attempt would put his country into a mouth-watering semi-final against Russia, Fabregas could have been excused for crumbling under the pressure — but instead the Gunners star coolly sent Buffon the wrong way with a crisp shot to the keeper’s left to send the Spanish fans hysterical.
In a game almost entirely devoid of goalscoring chances the worst miss of the night didn’t come from an effort on goal but from the German officials in Vienna who inexplicably failed to spot the disgraceful antics of Italy substitute Antonio di Natale. After being ‘hurt’ by Spanish left back Joan Capdevila the Italian rolled off the pitch — only to realise his mistake and laughably roll back onto the playing surface in order to have the game stopped! Herbert Fandel and his assistant referee, who was just yards away, were duly stung by the shrill of thousands of whistles from Spain fans incensed at their failure to spot such blatant gamesmanship.
Iker Casillas pulled of two stunning saves in the penalty shoot-out but it was his brilliant 60th minute stop from Mauro Camoranesi that ensured his side kept a clean sheet on the night. Amid a goalmouth scramble of sorts Camoranesi swivelled to hit a low right foot strike from eight yards out — only to be denied by the Spanish captain who despite being wrong-footed stretched out a left boot to clear the danger and prevent an almost-certain winning goal.
Referee Herbert Fandel blew up for an endless steam of free-kicks during a frustrating 120 minutes of action but there wasn’t a nasty tackle all evening long. That said, Real Madrid star Sergio Ramos did flatten Camoranesi in extra-time with a kung-fu style kick into the Italian’s back. Fortunately for Ramos, the world champions wasted the free-kick he had so recklessly conceded.
Italy skipper Gianluigi Buffon almost single-handedly helped his country reach the quarter-finals but he was left red-faced and relieved in the 80th minute after making a collector’s item of a clanger. Gathering a harmless looking Marcos Senna shot with ease, Buffon somehow allowed the ball to spill out of his grasp and watched in horror as it spun back wickedly towards his bottom corner. Scrambling backwards the Juventus stopper looked mightily relieved as the ball came back off the post and into the safety of his grateful arms.
Spain’s captain Iker Casillas was the undoubted star of the show – so much so that even the most ardent Barcelona fan will surely be toasting the Real Madrid goalkeeper for his heroics in Vienna. Not only did Casillas keep his side in the game with two vital saves in normal time, he also saved twice in the shoot-out to give his side a crucial advantage. The Spaniard’s fabulous full stretch diving save to keep out De Rossi’s penalty set up the victory, and his heroic status was complete as he guessed correctly to foil Di Natale’s weak fourth spot kick. This captain led by example and fully deserves the headlines.
He may have been a great player but Roberto Donadoni has endured a miserable Euro 2008. Mightily fortunate to make the knockout stages in the first place, the Italy coach had the chance to make amends but instead instructed his side to play some of the most negative, defensive football we have seen in the whole competition. With little or no invention being shown, and even less ambition, Donadoni’s side had the look of a team that had been strangled tactically by their defensively-minded manager. Surely it is now the end of the road for Donadoni as coach of the Italian national team.
THE TWO GAFFERS
At the grand old age of 69, Luis Aragones is the oldest coach at Euro 2008 but that doesn’t stop his side looking like one of the more sprightly sides in the tournament. The Spaniard could be accused of tightening things up for this clash but they were still far more adventurous than Italy and deserved to progress. It remains a mystery why Fabregas can’t make his starting line-up but with four wins on the trot, his system is working. Aragones’ brave decision to take Fernando Torres off in the 85th minute could have backfired — but it didn’t — and the grandfather will rightfully live to fight another day against the Russians on Thursday.
Roberto Donadoni’s defensive tactics came back to haunt him in this one and he will receive little or no sympathy when the post mortem is delivered. With his tactics based on getting ten men behind the ball at all times with long balls to Luca Toni as their only attacking outlet it is little wonder his side created very little. The introductions of Camoranesi and Del Piero livened up proceedings but even as the prospect of a penalty shoot out loomed large his team showed very little urgency. He can expect his P45 very soon….